This article is part of our weekly series “Plattenbau stories”, introducing the topic of plattenbau districts in Europe and the world. ONE ARCHITECTURE WEEK 2016 will be held in Trakiya, a plattenbau districts in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, from September 30th until October 9th. The main focus of the festival is the topic of“citizen participation in the creation of the urban environment”.
An article from Failed Architecture, for the full version click here.
It’s hard to see the sense of progress, urgency and aspiration that motivated the work of the architects and urban planners of the 50’s and 60’s. Even before the war they aspired to create new and optimal living conditions with the needed space, light and greenery. The highest aim was to create a good and healthy environment for the citizens of the overcrowded cities. Throughout the world the process of slum eradication, mass housing and modernist urban planning divided the city into different zones, separating living, working, recreation and transport and shaping the social relations.
The land was segregated into large units, parks, schools, vast shopping centres, cultural complexes and industrial estates. An example of the scale of such modernist plattenbau districts and their design is Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam. Its construction began in 1966 and the plan was to build 40.000 dwellings, 90% of which placed in high-rise buildings.. The inspired by “Park Hill” and “Le Mirail” microregion followed the same path of other estates of the same period – design flaws were blamed for its social problems. This leads to a series of interventions in the built environment.
According to Wouter Vanstiphout, head of the Design as Politics chair at the TU Delft, the root of the problem is the lack of cohesion and leadership while planning and executing the project. Other aspects should be taken into account as well – budget cuts, demographic changes as well as the fact that in the 70’s Bijlmermeer had to compete with the semi-detached houses of the newly developed small towns around Amsterdam, which lead to the loss of ⅙ ot the district’s inhabitants each year.
In 2002 half of the residents of Bijlmermeer were unemployed and 90% of the other half were earning a salary below the national minimum. Although the crime rates in this quarter are not higher than those in other quarters in Amsterdam Bijlmermeer was stigmatized as an unsafe place. This was another challenge in front of the process of development. Even though today most of the panel blocks are demolished, the bad name still stands.
Today the way to deal with a negative image are still concentrated on how to change the physical problems. Even according to the Amsterdam planning department one of the only solutions was to demolish the panel blocks and make them only 45% of the buildings.This aims to lure middle-class people with single-family dwellings with gardens. It’s ironic that urban planner Ashok Bhalotra suggests the project “Street of 1.000 cultures” that is to fill the place of a demolished high-rise building with ove 100 different cultures, albeit illegal immigrants from Ghana, poor people from the Antilles, and junkies from the city.
It’s good to see the renewal plan in a critical way. On one hand an imitation of historic structures that are not typical for this place, on the other hand the claim that the projects follows the natural development of the district while demolishing its buildings. Some of the alternatives, that can be given are:
1.A renovation of high-rise buildings, following Lacaton and Vassal’s example
2.A new plan that recreates some of the old ideas and elements of Bijlmermeer
3.Including the citizens in the design and execution of any plan that is being made